Hybrid Publisher or Vanty Press in disguise?

Simple steps to evaluate the value of a hybrid publisher

The traditional publishing model follows one rule: money always flows to the author. If the author pays for anything, they do not have a traditional publishing contract.

In the past, anything else was considered a vanity press, but with the rise of the indie publishing boom, the traditional/vanity press line has blurred.

Hybrid publishing has emerged as a middle ground, where the publisher/author relationship has changed from employer/employee to a true partnership. Both parties share in the risk of publishing a book, and as a result, share more equally in the profits. Those in hybrid publishing claim this model allows for great manuscripts that didn’t fit current market trends (and were therefore considered too risky) to be published. The model (which emphasizes digital distribution) also allowed for smaller sales numbers while maintaining profitability. Despite the noble philosophy, many so-called hybrid publishers are little more than vanity presses with a new name.

While the business models for these ventures varies, Jane Freidman describes them in four broad categories.

  • Editorially curated. While authors typically subsidize the costs of editing or publication, the publisher doesn’t accept every author who walks through the door. As a result of their selectivity, the publisher usually has better marketing and distribution. Examples include She Writes Press and Greenleaf Book Group.
  • Crowdfunding driven. Publishers such as Inkshares and Unbound require the author to raise a certain amount of money from their readership before they are granted a deal, which then closely adheres to a traditional publishing process.
  • Assisted self-publishing. Authors pay to publish, and there is little or no discernment in what types of authors are accepted.
  • Traditional publishers with a self-publishing arm. Some traditional publishers—usually small presses you haven’t heard of—may offer author services or assisted self-publishing.

She also recommends running from the final category.

How to evaluate a hybrid publisher vanity-publisher-pinterest

Are they selective? At its essence, a hybrid publisher is a business partner. You should expect a business partner to evaluate a potential investment, which means your manuscript. A hybrid publisher that accepts all manuscripts is not a true publisher, they are a self-publishing assistant.

Once you have established whether the publisher is a true hybrid publisher or a self-publishing assistant, now you can begin to evaluate their services and whether they can really help your book succeed.

For a true hybrid publisher you need to know:

  • What is the editing process?
  • Do they have in-house editors, or do they publish the manuscript as is? No manuscript should be published without an editor
  • Do they do a print-run? If so, do they have the ability to get your book into a brick-and-mortar store? This means more than just having a catalog. Make sure they have actually gotten books on the shelf.
  • Does the publisher have a good reputation or loyal readership?
  • Do they have a large mailing list with active readers?
  • What is their marketing plan for your book?
  • Do they have experience with your genre/category? Blasting your book on Twitter isn’t going to generate sales. Book marketing is difficult. Make sure the marketing team is up to the task.

Look through their catalog. How many of these books have you seen in bookstores? Check their sales rankings on Amazon. If they don’t have sales, you will make more money without them.

Evaluating a self-publishing assistant

If you’d rather focus your time on writing and aren’t opposed to parting with some of your royalties, you may want to consider a self-publishing assistant. These companies are not true publishers, they take a writer’s manuscript and produce a professional looking e-book, ready to upload to Nook, Amazon, or the distribution service of your choice.

These can either be a-la-carte services or authors can choose a package.

In this case, you need to evaluate the quality of the product and gauge whether their service is worth the cost. For example, the publisher may charge $100 to turn your plain text document into an ebook, something you could easily do yourself in a program like Vellum for $30.

  • Before you sign with one of these companies evaluate the quality of their:
  • Editing: Read one of their books and look for mistakes.
  • Covers: Browse through their online catalog. Do the covers look professional? Do they use unique images, or are they all from the first page of Shutterstock?
  • Marketing: Do they have a comprehensive marketing plan? How high have their books been on the Amazon bestseller list? How many have made the top 1000?

Most importantly, could you get similar quality results if you hired freelance editors and designers? Is there something that this company offers that is more than one stop shopping convenience?

Self-publishing vs. Assisted Publishing: the math

Using the Amazon 70% royalties as a base, let’s do the math to see where the break even point is for the various models.

Hiring freelancers

These are average estimates. You could always pay more or less.

Developmental edit: $750
Line edit: $1000
Cover: $200
ebook conversion: $30

Add in some targeted ads, bookbub campaign, or other marketing, and you could easily spend $2000 or more.

Assuming you charge $3.99 ($2.80 royalty) for your book on Amazon, you will have to sell 715 books to break even. (Keep in mind the average e-book sells 250 copies over its lifetime.)

Hybrid publisher

She Writes Press” will give you the same basic package as above (copy editing and developmental edits are extra) with the additional benefits of a print run, distribution, and the proven ability to get books into brick and mortar stores for $4,900.

Before you choke, remember there are some tangible benefits to going with an established company. She Writes Press has an established readers community, (which is an important distribution channel) It also charges more per novel: $9.99 ($7 net royalty) which you receive 60% or $4.20.

At their royalty rate, you would have to sell 1167 books to make a profit. (This is only ebook sales. This does not include print books.) Considering “She Writes Press” has managed to place print books not only in brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble, and BAM! but even big box retailers like Target, it seems possible that this company is far more capable of turning a profit for your book than if you went alone.

A cursory investigation revealed their books perform better than the average self-published novel. However, their base price doesn’t include extras such as a developmental or line edits, which means you will have to sell far more books to break even.

Other concerns: While this press doesn’t require you use their editors, it does have a list they “recommend,” which creates a conflict of interest. They also charge a submission fee, which I find deplorable.

The only benefit to this press vs hiring freelancers seems to be the potential for better distribution, meaning the writer spends less time marketing. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee.

Know what you are paying for

When evaluating your hybrid publishing options, make sure you know what you are paying for. Get everything in writing, and verify claims with actual success stories. Look through a potential publisher’s catalog, contact authors who have worked with them and get their feedback.

Finally, make sure the services you are paying for are better quality than you could have found with a freelancer. There is no need to pay extra for having the convenience of subpar workmanship all under one roof.

The publishing world is more competitive than ever, and there are plenty of people who are willing to part aspiring writers from their money. Do your research and protect yourself from scam artists.

Creating the Perfect Villian-Author Toolbox

Tips for creating the perfect villain

I’m in love with one of my characters. He’s powerful, driven, and disciplined. He knows exactly what he wants and is willing to make the effort to get it. Whatever it takes. He has risked his position, his influence, his wealth, and even his life for his ideals. He’s not afraid to be unpopular, or even despised because he knows he is working toward something greater, something that will save so many lives. And though many would question his tactics, to him, the ends justify the means. He is deeply devoted to his task, and still more so, to the woman he loves, and the son he is not allowed to acknowledge. He is my perfect creation.

He is my villain.


One of the major pitfalls I see in novice writers is the dead-dull villain. The black coat in the thriller, the overbearing father in the YA, or, from my genre, the dark wizard who does nothing in the book except to sit in a black tower and think evil thoughts.

I recently read a novel whose villain had a vile mind-reading power. Poised as a child psychologist, he delved into the minds of his victims/patients during their therapy sessions. This predation on children by a person in a position of trust sent my spine into an eel-ish coil. I was hooked. Let’s take down this A-hole. How could anyone do this to a child? My mind flew through possibilities. It takes 7-10 years to become a licensed Psychologist. Whatever this guy is up to, he’s devoted a 1/3 of his life to getting it. I needed to know

Turns out he was just evil. I was devastated. All that preparation amounted to nothing.

What a waste.

Beware of cardboard villainsvillain-pinterest

Stock villains are not only cliché, they are dull. They add nothing to the story. Seventy-five years ago villains were expected to be the embodiment of evil. They were separate, other. A war had a clear purpose: defeat the Nazi snake with a single villain at its head. Literature from the time reflected this ideal, but today’s worldview is different. People no longer accept the simplistic reasoning: he just chooses to be bad.

The modern villain must have a fully realized backstory. The writer must know the process by which the villain came to hold his beliefs. She must know what the villain wants, and how far he is willing to go to get it. His motivations must be clear and logical (even if it isn’t the logic you would follow). Villains can no longer be the black cape and the handlebar mustache. Villains must be fully realized characters.

What to do instead?

Treat your villain equally to your MC.

Your villain is half your story. Without Voldemort, Harry Potter’s just another kid with a crappy home life starting a new school. Give your villain the respect he deserves. Start by making a character sketch. If you’ve never done this there are dozens of examples online. Scrivener has one built in. Find something that works for you. This is where you can give him mannerisms, as well as physical descriptors. Find something to make him memorable.

Write your villain’s backstory.

Even if it never makes it into your MS, knowing more about your villain will allow you to breathe some life into him. Delve deep here. Make sure you understand his motivations. Once the motivations are established, make sure they are balanced with the effort the villain is making to accomplish his goals. If your villain is angry at your MC for breaking his toy when they were kids, he won’t spend the next 30 years perfecting a serum to give himself mutant powers so that he can take over the world and exile the MC to the moon. Make sure the motivation and the effort are in balance.

What influenced him to develop his particular set of beliefs?

Villains hold mistaken views. They believe something that isn’t true, but the journey to that belief must be realistic. Why does your villain think sending his brother to the moon will make him happy? Perhaps while he was developing his serum he had to watch your MC continue to get all the attention, fame, fortune, all while listening to your MC be an obnoxious braggart? Sending him to the moon might not be so unreasonable.

How does your villain reinforce these beliefs?

People tend to seek out like-minded people or choose to emphasize experiences that reinforce their worldview. Is he surrounded by lackeys, or is he a loner? Does he attend a weekly antagonists anonymous meeting? What do the people around him want? How do they benefit from his mistaken belief?

How does he react when life events conflict with his worldview?

Mistaken views will be constantly challenged. How does your villain react to these tests? This will define his character. Does he just start shouting louder like a cable news talking head? Does he resort to elaborate conspiracy theories? Maybe he has a moment where reform seems possible, and then anger resurfaces.

What’s next?

Once you have these finished, write a book pitch as if your villain is the MC and see how well your choices fit together.

Example: Voldemort knows the name wizard once meant something in the world, and only he knows how to bring that meaning back. He’s studied relentlessly, forsaking friends and family to perfect his craft. He’s searched the world to find the best spell-casters to stand with him. He’s even split his soul into pieces, all so he can restore the ancient legacy of his people. All the pieces are finally in place. Nothing is going to stop him, especially not a 10-year-old orphan from Privet Drive.

We know what he wants, what he’s willing to do to get it and who is standing in his way. Make sure your villain is a fully-realized character and one who actively affects your MC. Otherwise, your story might start to read like a video game with a boss battle at the end. Remember villains are people too.

So have dinner with a bad boy tonight.

Your readers will thank you.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

Getting started in Guest Blogging

I’m taking this week off to prepare for the upcoming holiday.

This week I guest posted at Operation Awesome. Home of the pages or pass contest.

If you are not guest posting, I highly recommend it. Yes, it does take away from your valuable writing time, but it exposes you to a new audience. Publicity is difficult for writers, and guest posting is an effective (and free) way to get your name out there.

Sometimes blogs will actively ask for guest bloggers by posting submission requirements on their pages, but most of my guest posts appear on blogs where I blind queried.

Some tips:

Make a list of blogs you follow


These could be writing blogs, or any other topic you have expertise in. If you are a romance writer, look for romance blogs like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. If you wrote a book on gardening, try gardening blogs.

Send a query letter asking to guest post

This is the exact query letter you would send to a magazine. Briefly describe the article you propose and give an approximate word count. Unless you are already on friendly terms with the blog’s editor, keep the letter professional. (Even if the blog’s tone is not.)

Deliver your content when promised

I shouldn’t need to say this but…

Deliver top-quality content (even to a small blog)

You never know what an article will do once it’s on the internet. REALLY. Everything you put online reflects on you. My most popular article is one I published almost as a joke. It consistently outperforms the rest of my blog articles combined. Even if a blog has a small readership, it has the potential to produce popular content, and once your article is published, you have no control to edit or remove it.

Find a niche

To make guest blogging easier on your time budget, develop your expertise in a single topic. This will allow you to put articles together without spending hours on research. You will also begin to establish yourself as an expert on your topic.

Don’t submit the exact same article

Feel free to recycle topics and even outlines, but sending a cut-and-paste article to every venue won’t help anyone. Google recognizes repeated content and ranks it lower in the search engine results. Make sure every article is unique, even if the overall message is the same.


Guest blogging is a great way for writers to gain an audience. With a little investment of time, writers can produce lasting benefits for their careers. It’s free publicity and the perfect way for the novice to establish a portfolio and move toward paid blogging gigs.

Try guest blogging. You may be surprised where it takes you.

Avoiding Scam Publishers

Is that contract from a scam publisher?

While most writers know vanity presses are little more than scams, many intelligent people still fall into their traps. As information becomes more available, scam publishers continue to evolve finding new ways to part the aspiring writer from her money. Vanity presses and other scam publishers present themselves as a partner for your book, a partner who charges you fees, provides little or shoddy workmanship, leaves all the marketing to you, and then blames you when your book fails.

Some indications of a scam publisher

Charges reading fees

Our reading fee is…

A legitimate publisher will NEVER charge you a fee to read your book. Not. Ever. Publishers make their money by selling books, not by looking for them. A legitimate publisher does not charge reading fees, application fees, or processing fees. If a publisher wants you to send a check or a credit card number with your submission, this is not a real publisher.

Paid submission appsscam-publishers-pinterest.jpg

We use the writer.scam app for all submissions. You will need to purchase a subscription…

While most publishers still accept email submissions, many are moving to a cloud-based submission platform to manage their queries. Legitimate publishers do not use a submission website program that requires a paid subscription from you. Submittable (the most popular) is free for authors to use. If the publisher wants a fee to set up your submittable account, it is a scam. If a publisher wants you to use another submission program that requires a fee, run.

Also, watch out for submission platforms that offer add-ons like auto submissions, or making your manuscript available for browsing. Legitimate publishers are swamped with submissions. They aren’t searching through databases looking for more.

Printing fees

The cost to print 2000 books is…

A legitimate publisher will pay to print your book. In exchange for this, the publisher will decide on the cover, whether there will be a hardcover, paperback, or e-book only, and the number of copies to print. If the publisher wants to charge you a fee for printing costs, it is a scam.

Editorial fees

Our editing fees are…

A legitimate publisher will have editors on staff. They will pay for your edit. The details of the editing process should be explained to you before you sign your contract. If you have any questions, ask. The acquisitions editor will be happy to answer your questions or point you to someone within the company who can. If your editor refuses or gives you the runaround, don’t sign the contract.

The exception: since publishing is a business, publishers have a defined process for handling edits. As part of this contract, the author must also fulfill their obligations, which means finishing revisions on time and not asking for developmental level changes at the proofreading stage. These expectations will be clearly stated at the beginning of the process, and even included in the contract.

Editor for Hire

We love your book, but it isn’t ready yet. Please contact Ms. Editor. She will guide you step-by-step, and then we will be happy to publish your edited manuscript

Another editorial scam is a publisher who insists that your book needs a full edit before it is ready for publication and you need to hire their recommended editor. This creates a conflict of interest where the ‘editor’ might give the ‘publisher’ a kickback for the business. An acquisitions editor may recommend working with an editor in a rejection letter. For example.

“While I liked the premise of your story, I feel the writing isn’t ready and may benefit from an editor’s feedback. Feel free to re-query me with the revised manuscript.”

The important difference is the acquisitions editor did not recommend a specific editor, and she did not make hiring that editor a condition for publication. Legitimate publishers pay for your editing.

Extras that are actually free

Want your book on Amazon, Nook, iBooks? Those add-ons will cost you a small fee.

A publisher makes money when they sell your book. Not having them available for purchase in the most popular venues doesn’t make sense. Unless it is a scam. Anyone can publish an ebook on any of these venues. Literally anyone. All you need is an email address. You don’t have to be a publisher. You don’t have to pay a fee. It’s free.

In-house website

You must have an author website that links to our website where your ‘buy’ links are. The only way to fulfill this obligation is to host your website on our system, for a small fee.

First off, this is an outright lie. Any website can link to any other website. If the publisher wants a fee to set up your website, decline. WordPress is simple to use, and you can have a professional looking website for free. (This website uses a free WordPress account.) You can cut and paste links to your books right on the page. WordPress pulls the cover image and all the code directly from Amazon. It’s simple. Don’t pay for a web designer. (Not until you’re famous.)


As part of your submission, please fill out this extensive marketing plan for your book.

I write genre fiction. A publisher in genre fiction should know how to sell genre fiction. You should not need to tell your publisher how you are going to sell your book. They should be telling you how they are going to sell your book. If they don’t know how they can sell it, they shouldn’t be publishing it. If a publisher has no plans for marketing your book, you are better off self-publishing.

But what about platforms?
Platforms are an important component of non-fiction book proposals. Your reputation as an expert is a major factor in determining how well your book will perform in the market. While an online presence is helpful, it is not the main component of selling fiction.

Required marketing fees

We need you to pay for bookmarks, ARC copies, Amazon reviews, and you have to pay to attend our conference.

While your publisher might have a tiny (or non-existent) budget for marketing, your contract should never require you to pay them for marketing. You may choose to buy bookmarks or attend conferences, but these extras should not be a condition of your contract. Also, your publisher should supply ARC (even if it’s digital) copies for your readers, as well as a box of books for you to take to signings. (If you have a print run) Ask questions about marketing before you sign the contract.

Required book purchase

We want you to schedule some book signings, but you’ll need to something to sign. You should have at least a hundred on hand. We’ll be happy to let you have them at cost.

A legitimate publisher will never require you to buy your own book. NEVER. They make their money when they sell your book. If you have a print run and wish to do a signing, they should provide you with a box of books.

Complex royalty structures.

We will pay you 15% of sales after the following conditions are met.

Scam publishers will make these conditions so complex that the author never sees a check. (The rules are different if your book receives an advance, but if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Your agent will be handling this.)
Make sure you understand the rules and then be certain these conditions can actually be met. Do the math. Does it add up?

Know what is in your contract. If you don’t understand something, ask

Don’t sign that contract until you are comfortable with the process. Ask questions about editing and marketing. Understand what is in the contract, and what isn’t. If an editor won’t answer your questions, run. If a publisher asks for money, run. The bottom line: the author does not pay the publisher.

Optimizing your Online Book Description

online-book-pinEffective online book descriptions are more than just the words. The internet is a visual medium, much like a magazine. Readers expect content to be presented in a visually interesting way. This means thinking about your description as a web design project, including visual arts elements, like white space, and formatting your text using HTML. Even if you are not a programmer, simple tags for bold, italic, H1, H2 are easy enough for the novice. (If you still need help, use a WYSIWYG HTML generator. Then, cut and paste the results in your Amazon description.)

Here is a book description that needs revision. Notice how the large block of text is unappealing, even daunting. Readers are conditioned to expect efficient content online, smaller chunks of text, and variety.

bad hook
Giant blocks of text turn readers off

When designing your book descriptions, consider how all the elements of the page will work together. You will have three elements: the cover, the short hook, and the full description.

The Cover

The cover is your number 1 sales tool. It will be the reason a prospective reader will click on your description. If your cover looks bad or does not accurately reflect your genre/content, a reader will never see your written description. A solid, professional cover is money well spent.

The Short Hook

The short hook is the first 40-60 words of your description (depending on how you format it) that Amazon shows on your book’s landing page. At the end of the short hook, readers have the option to click on “read more.” The primary function of the short hook is to entice readers to click on that link. No click=no sale.

Think of the short hook as your “above the fold content” (content a reader will see without performing any actions). Many writers will use this space for a meaningful review, or a tagline.

short hook ex 1.png

In this example, the short hook leads with bestseller achievements, follows with reviews, and then manipulates the break to only show the tagline ending with the ellipsis. Notice how this all comes before the “read more” link. This is a carefully crafted sales pitch.

The Full Hook

The third element is the full hook. This will only be revealed if your first two elements have been a success. It’s the third act of your story. Just like you can’t wait until the end of your book to make the story interesting, you can’t put all your best information at the end of your hook. The full hook must deliver on the promise created in the first two elements. It must expand on what has already been created and deliver a satisfying message. In this case, a compelling reason to read your story.

full hook ex2

Notice, in this example, how the blurb doesn’t even begin until the “read more’ has been clicked. This is one option. Another option is to create a mystery in your short hook to compel the reader forward.

Once you have your description written, you must create a layout with visual interest.

good online book description

An effective layout will have plenty of white space, giving the eyes an opportunity to rest. Too much text creates an uncomfortable experience for the reader.

good online book description

Now let’s create yours

Begin with a great tagline, or meaningful review (and change the text with tags or bold/italic text)

The short hook-, use 50-60 words or less engage your reader. This means making a promise that intrigues the reader. By the end of his paragraph, your reader must want to click on the “read more” to find out the answer.

The second paragraph (Below the “read more” link-Now that the reader has clicked “read more”, we don’t want them to regret it. In the second paragraph, you must expand on the original hook, creating more depth. Add your complicating factor. You do not have to use all the allotted space for your hook. Giant blocks of text turn readers off.

Have lots of text? Consider breaking things up with subheadings

The Close- the final paragraph. Congratulations you’ve hooked your reader. They clicked on ‘read more’ and made it to the end. It’s time to reel them in with a great close.

If you did not lead with a positive review, you can use the extra space here to quote it, and be sure to use italics to distinguish it from the rest of your hook.

Taking the time to optimize your online hook will give your description a more professional appearance, convince your readers that your content is higher quality, and ultimately help you achieve stronger sales.

Steps to Publishing your ebook

Today’s the day. You’ve finished your final copyedit, you’ve picked the perfect title, and now you are ready to release your baby to the world. But how do you get your novel dressed and ready for release?

Text setting

Decide if you will do an e-pub only, or if you will do a print version

This will depend on your audience. Novelist and non-fiction writers will have different needs. As a reader, I prefer epub for novels, but I want my cookbooks and reference materials in print. You must do your research. Since most readers of this blog are novel writers, I will cover epub, rather than print.

Simply uploading your word doc isn’t going to produce the best results. The text must be converted into a usable epub format.

Your text will need:

  • A responsive layout to display correctly on various e-readers
  • An interactive table of contents with working links.
  • Consistent formatting for chapters, chapter breaks, scene breaks, italics, etc.
  • Correct formatting for introductory chapter graphics

If your manuscript relies heavily on graphics or illustrations, consider getting a professional as these are more difficult to typeset.

David Kudler’s article from The Book Designer is a good place to start. He lays out instructions for manually formatting your text. Even if you plan to use a program, it’s interesting to know how everything works.

Or invest in a dedicated software program.

While Scrivener will work, many people find it too complex and prefer a program like Vellum. For a full list of options see Jane Friedman’s How to Publish an Ebook.

Once this is completed, make sure you view (proof) your finished file on multiple devices or ask a friend to read it. If you always view your text on the same device you will not see extra spaces or words with permanent breaks that fall at the end of lines, or blank lines that occur at the end of pages. Also, if you are sending out ARC copies, have your readers report back any errors they find.


Back cover blurb/online description

Have your pitch set before you begin your cover design. Include a short, one sentence, hook to be used on your cover and/or the lead in your online description. This will give you something to send to your designer allowing him/her to capture the tone of your novel in the visual elements, ensuring that both work together.

An effective pitch is the one that sells your novel.

This is the only real “rule” to pitches.

Some guidelines

Effective pitches:

  • Are less than 250 words. Nothing turns off a prospective reader more than a giant block of text. A pitch that rambles tells a reader that the book will ramble as well. Get the essence; leave out the fluff.
  • Introduce the main character in a way that engages the reader. What does she want?
  • Introduce the conflict. What is standing in her way?
  • Introduce the stakes. What happens if she fails?
  • Reflect the book’s tone. Use words and language that match the book

Effective pitches are not:

  • A synopsis. Don’t reveal the ending
  • Worldbuilding opportunities, keep it brief
  • Backstory dumping grounds. Keep the past out of your pitch and focus on the MC’s present.
  • Vague. A dark secret emerges and life will never be the same? Pass. Be specific.
  • Essays about why you wrote the book

Once you have your pitch, now you can design your cover

The Front Cover:

Your cover is your number 1 sales tool. If you are planning to make your own, tread carefully. Unless you have some expertise in graphic design, your cover may hinder your sales. There are plenty of professionals who will create a cover at a reasonable price.

Jane Friedman says:

Before you hire a cover designer, I recommend doing some research and studying bestselling books similar to your own in genre, theme, or audience. Find at least two or three covers that you like, and write fifty to a hundred words explaining why these covers look good to you. This serves as the start of a creative brief you can give to your freelance designer, to help them create an appropriate cover for your book.

This advice applies whether you are hiring a professional designer or creating your own cover. You must do your research.

Before you create your cover, ask:

  • What genre/category will I place my novel?
  • What features/colors/styles reflect this genre?
  • What elements appeal to me/my audience?
  • How can set my novel apart without making it look out of place?
  • Is this part of a series? Plan a unifying theme for all the books.

After you create your cover, ask?

  • Does this cover have typography/layout mistakes that make it look amateurish? i.e does something about the text seem off?
  • Does this cover accurately reflect the genre and tone?
  • Does this cover entice the reader to learn more?
  • Does this cover look overly generic, or could it only pitch this novel?


Once you have a perfect epub file and cover, upload it to your chosen sales venue and set your publication date.

Now you can begin your marketing campaign.

Cover Design Mistakes

Cover Design Mistakes that are costing you sales

You cover is your number 1 sales tool. Yes, it is. No matter how good your novel is, no matter how brilliant your back cover blurb is, no matter how many ARC reviews you have, no one will read any of it if your cover looks amateurish.

For the writer with limited funds, paying for a professional cover can seem like too much of a gamble. (How many do I need to sell now to break even?) But putting out a terrible cover will guarantee lackluster sales. If you can’t afford a pro for every novella you put out, make sure you are not committing these common cover design mistakes.

Typography mistakes

Text is art. Bad typography is the most common “tell” of the amateur cover. If you are serious about designing your own covers, study the basics of good type.

Fancy Fonts

bad book cover-fancy font
Fancy fonts
Breaking out the scrapbooking fonts to make your cover look really special, really doesn’t. These two fonts don’t reflect the Sci-Fi thriller feel the rest of the cover is trying to portray. These fonts don’t match the cover image or each other. The results are confusing and messy. If you don’t have access to the correct genre font, don’t substitute another exotic font. Clean and simple block text would have sufficed.

Boring centered text

bad book covers
Unconsidered, boring text
This text suffers from no formatting. The title is centered and allowed to auto format. The main element “Sarah” should be given a separate text box, allowing the size to be manipulated independently from the subtitle. The descriptive words in the subtitle could also be given some thought. “Wild” could be set in italics adding further interest in the title. Text is artwork. Give it careful consideration.

Invisible Text

Bad Book Covers
Invisible Text
Every time I see this, I’m left scratching my head. An otherwise beautiful book cover ruined by the invisible text. (Did you even see it? It’s in the water.) A simple burn under the main title and a change in font color for the subtitle would fix this. What works for print doesn’t always work for online. Your text must be legible.

Creative Typography Effects

Bad book covers

Look through the entire top 100 on Amazon and count how many books use type settings in unconventional directions. Very few. And it’s a good bet those were done by professional designers. Unconventional typography is tricky. More than one direction will make your text appear random. Waterfall text is almost impossible to pull off. I know Photoshop has it built in, but that button isn’t for you. Step away.

Photoshop Fails

If you have access to Photoshop, spend the time to learn it. Photoshop is a powerful, but complicated, program. While you many never use most of its capability, having the basics will save your hours of frustration.

Montage Monstrosity 

Montage run amok
This cover shows the creator has just enough Photoshop skills to be dangerous. What exactly are these faces floating in? Montage is not only a quick way to move the story along, it’s also a quick way to move a potential reader along–to the next author. Keep it simple. Skip the montage.

Busy Background

The previous example suffered from too much Photoshop. This one suffers from not enough. The text is lost against the busy background. As a result, the creator was forced into using the garish black text in an attempt to create enough contrast to make it legible. Note how the author’s name is clearly visible against the bright green. With a few simple manipulations, the dark tree trunks could have been lightened allowing the text to show.

DIY Images

With so many self-published titles on the market, the potential for multiple covers to use the same stock image has prompted many authors to seek alternatives. However, creating your own image isn’t always the best solution.

The backyard photographer

Flat Photo
While this is a pretty photo, it falls flat as a book cover. Why? It has a shallow depth of field. The leaves, the woman, and the tree appear in the same plane of focus, and visually, they have the same weight. Rather than force your eye to focus on the main element: the woman, they compete with her. As a result, the text feels lost in an already saturated visual plane, making it into the chorus girl, not the main star.

Poser/hand drawn fantasy covers

Poser Cover
Finding a decent stock image to use for a high fantasy cover is nearly impossible. Commissioning an artist to create a custom piece is expensive. What is a fantasy writer to do? Unless you have an art degree, do not create your own artwork. You cannot be “pretty good” at drawing, or “getting the hang” of Poser and pull this off. And don’t be tempted to ask your friend who likes to draw. Whatever you get back, you will feel obligated to use. You are much better off picking something abstract from your novel and creating a cover from that. No colored pencils, no cartoon boobs. No.

Image Confusion

While your cover doesn’t need to portray a scene in your book, it does need to accurately reflect your novel. The image and the title must work together as a conhesive pitch. It must also reflect the established conventions of the genre.

Genre Confusion

Bad Book Covers
Genre Confusion
This is a rom-com? It looks more like my 8th-grade dream journal. While it’s a pretty cover, it won’t look like any of the books next to it. Readers will think either this book is mislabeled, or the writer doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Either way, they won’t bother to click because there will be plenty of other books to choose from that do look like what they are searching for.

Random Image

Bad Book Covers
random image
Is this book about a bear? Where’s the home? And why is the heather blooming in November? While the cover does beckon the reader forward, it’s too far removed from the title to make sense. Your cover is a visual pitch of your book. It has to sell your book. It can’t do that with an image that doesn’t match the story.

Think of your cover as a visual pitch

These are only a few of the potential pitfalls authors fall into when designing covers for their novels. If you are trying to sell your novel with one of these covers, you are hindering your sales. Take the time to create a cover that looks professional. Study book covers in your genre and take notes. Learn to recreate those same types of covers in Photoshop (or your preferred program). If you don’t have the skills, reach out to the writer’s community and get help. There are so many resources available. Don’t let your sales suffer from a bad cover.

Example Cover Links:
The Good
E-Book cover Design Awards
he Bad
Lousy Book Covers
he Ugly (Parody, Not Safe for work)
Kindle Cover Disasters